Can remote sensing (drones) find harmful algae blooms?

A harmful aquatic algae bloom is when there is sudden a rapid growth of algae. In the past these were more commonly referred to as red tides. These populations of algae in term then produce extracellular compounds that can cause harm and even death to humans and wildlife and fish. Shellfish that are subjected to HABs cause humans to get sick. In rare cases people can even die. HABs most commonly occur in the oceans and large freshwater lakes, such as the Great Lakes.

Often HABs occurs due to nutrient runoff but it is important to understand these have been occurring for millions of years. There are fossilized HABs and fossils of whales found in a proximity and quality near the fossilized HABs that is is theorized the HABs resulted in the death of the whales. Climate change is increasing the frequency and intensity of HABs so it is clear we need to develop tools to predict and mitigate risks with HABs.

I looked at research into using remote sensing to predict algal blooms of Karenia brevis in coastal Florida. This algal is responsible for the most red-tides in Florida. It produces a neurotoxin that kills aquatic life and makes shellfish toxic to humans. Researchers used a geographic information system (GIS) to develop a machine learning method to detect harmful algal blooms (HABs).

Karenia brevis Images source: Florida fish and wildlife resources department
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